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20 February 2012

Dangerous metaphors #1: "boomerang penis"

Talking of sex, as we were in the previous entry, the paragraph pictured below (from today’s Guardian) has a classic example of an uncontrolled metaphor which is more confusing than descriptive. This is a habit to avoid if you want to invoke intended rather than unintended sense in the mind of the reader.
     Ignore Michael Parkinson’s “beautiful” vasectomy and look at the first sentence in the second paragraph, which describes an “outrageous” line from the cover of an early number of the women’s magazine, Cosmopolitan. Ask yourself, what exactly is a “boomerang penis”?

So what, then, is the phrase “a boomerang penis” really supposed to mean? Could it be one that is shaped like a boomerang in the sense that it has a kink in it? Possibly, but in cross-section a boomerang is nearly flat, and has a carefully crafted groove along its length for aerodynamic effect. That sounds more like the sort of penis that Salvadore Dali would have painted than anything the editor of a British lifestyle magazine might have encountered in the mid-1970s. On the other hand, though modern boomerangs are fashioned out of light wood, historically they were made of bone. Perhaps that was what stimulated the imagination of the writer.
     In fact, I suspect that the governing image was probably the common one, which denotes something that is thrown away but returns, often with unpleasant results for the thrower. An insult, for example, is said to “boomerang” when it comes back to damage the reputation of the person who uttered it.
     Another clue is that boomerangs were used by aborigines in Australia to kill birds. Back in the days when Michael Parkinson could still have used a vasectomy, “bird” was a common slang term for “girl”. As Cosmopolitan was written for women, the “handling” of something that flies up into the air, kills an edible object in flight, then floats down to earth to the detriment of the person who had handled it, could be a much darker image of the horror of sex in a hot country when examined from a female point of view, even without any kangaroos being involved.
     My man on the Songlines tells me that the smallest recorded boomerang was just 4 inches (10 cms.) long, but in recent years larger and larger ones have been made. The biggest one ever to achieve lift-off was nearly six feet (almost two metres) in length. That ought to have been enough to terrify even the most ravening editor of Cosmopolitan, and persuade her to control her metaphors before they came back to bite her, boomerang-style.

1 comment:

  1. Taling about Michael Parkinson vasectomy, did yo hear that the late Rodney Dangerfield, the American-Jewish comedian who was always complaining that he never got any respect from the world, said that he went to his doctor and said, “Doc, I want a vasectomy.”
    The doctor replied: “With a face like yours you don’t need one.”